Outdoor badminton has been receiving a lot of air time recently but Abdul Latheef Mohamed has been playing para badminton on the beach, using plastic shuttles, for the last 20 years.
“For a long time we not only did not have access to indoor facilities, we also could not get feather shuttlecocks,” said Latheef, a 41-year-old public school teacher on Nilandhoo Island, Faafu Atoll in the Maldives.
Taking part in his first international tournament, Latheef, who plays men’s singles Standing Lower (SL3), partnered Ahmed Fayaz (SL4) to play men’s doubles at the Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Dubai Para Badminton International 2021.
The Maldives team was put together a little over two years ago by coach and Shuttle Time tutor Ahmed Iyad.
“In 2018, I was part of a programme by a Japanese university to introduce more countries to this sport. When I returned from Japan, I started looking for local talent,” said Iyad.
Fayaz was spotted in a competition organised by his office colleagues in Male.
“In the capital city (Male), and now on some islands, we have community halls but they are usually very narrow and the ceiling is not high enough for badminton,” said Fayaz who hails from Feevah Island in the Shaviani Atoll.
Other more recent challenges include lockdown limitations that keep them confined to their respective home islands, preventing them from travelling for centralised training.
Spirits however, are high and Latheef and Fayaz were elated just to be in Dubai despite losing all their matches in early rounds.
“I met the world champion. I lost but that’s OK because he’s the world champion,” said Latheef, after playing India’s Pramod Bhagat.
“We can see that each country invests a lot on their athletes to give them tournament exposure. We have to do the same when we go home,” said Fayaz.
“Maldives is more than 1000 islands and I’m sure there are some talented young players out there. We just need to find them and train them,” said Iyad.